Wednesday, July 7

Flipping Terms: Freedom In Retrospect

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must undergo the fatigue of supporting it." — Thomas Paine

In relation to population, Common Sense, written by Thomas Paine, had the largest circulation of any book in American history. It set the tone for the United States Declaration of Independence, arguing that all men are created equal six months before the principal author, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in the explanation of the colonies' decision to separate. It was adopted on July 4, 1776.

The above quote, which I shared across my social networks during the long weekend, elicited an interesting response from my friend Chris Stadler, who asked if the concept of freedom I was referencing had changed over the last 234 years. Many people today, even those who are uncertain of which country the United States declared its independence from, believe it to mean freedom from responsibilities. Specifically, the right not to worry.

Flipping The Definition Of Freedom.

Flipping the definitions of freedom and security is relatively easy to do. And to escape the trappings of politics, let's consider the zoo, which is a park or institution where animals are kept, bred, and exhibited.

By the definition of some, these animals must be the most free on earth. All of their meals are provided, fairly distributed based upon the energy they require. All of their health care is free, with regular preventative care. All of their decisions are made for them, ranging from what to eat to when they sleep to what they play with for the enjoyment of passersby.

They want for nothing, these animals. No predators can harm them. And nowadays, most live longer.

However, most zoologists admit that while they can provide a good and caring quality of life for the animals, one can only guess whether or not any particular animal would be happier in the wild or not. By most measures, it depends on the animal.

And with that in mind, for the purposes of this thought experiment, imagine if some of the animals could let us know. And let's say, a certain percentage of these animals told us that they would, indeed, prefer a harsher risk for the thrill of the hunt or the run. The zookeeper might be faced with a curious choice.

If specific animals are responsible for the revenue generated by the zoo, should they be let go and all the remaining animals forced to get by with less? Or, do they have an obligation to stay for the good of the community they were born into or adopted by? And since whatever rare attributes they possess are vital to the collective good, are theyrequired to accept the quality of life chosen for them, which by a different sort of parameters offers them more freedom, not less, despite the burden of captivity?

Indeed, under the flipped freedom thinking, the obligatory model holds. It did in 1776 too.

Leading Up To Independence.

Americans tend to learn about the American Revolution from the perspective of Americans. It makes sense, but there is a succession of steps that lead up to disenfranchisement of the people, with most of those problems related to policy.

Great Britain wasn't necessarily trying to be cruel to the Americas, at first. It had borrowed heavily to finance the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in the Americas), and doubled its national debt.

Since all countries must eventually address liabilities, Great Britain began levying more taxes to pay for the debt. To collect these taxes, the government had to create and expand bureaucracies, which required additional taxes to support it.

The new bureaucracies, afforded more power by Parliament, did what they do best. They increased regulations, which inflamed the increasing tax and debt problems. And, as justification, viewed the increasing taxes and regulations as just, given the obligation of its citizens to share in the costs associated with its decisions, perhaps bad ones.

The end result, from the perspective of the various colonies, was a central government encroaching on the prosperity and autonomy of the various colonial charters and the citizens who resided there. However, that did not matter to the central government, which felt it had sufficient power and authority to bind the colonial states to its will.

Many of us know what happened next. It led to the writing of the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, a document written two years prior to the Declaration of Independence but much lesser known in that it was an attempt to reconcile increasing taxation and central authority.

The similarities of our current course are startling, with one exception. A greater percentage of people elect to live in a zoo. And there seems to be an increasing number of people inclined to round up the rest who prefer to run loose. It's for their own good, naturally.

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Tuesday, July 6

Understanding Competition: Differentiate Or Die

In the midst of the last recession, I returned to Las Vegas after spending a few years in Los Angeles and Reno, Nev., rounding out my portfolio as a wide-eyed copywriter with some experience as a creative director and communication consultant. No one was hiring.

At the time, online marketing was only imagined. Public relations firms weren't taken seriously. And advertising agencies were laying off professionals with much more experience and, frankly, better books. The freelance market was extremely competitive, especially with an influx of Los Angeles creatives keen to the idea that Las Vegas was weathering the economy better.

The challenge was simple enough. If I wanted to break away from the part-time job I picked up to pay the bills, I had to find a way to compete. Book-to-book, I couldn't win.

It wasn't that their samples were better, per se, they simply had more of them. And, in many cases, their account experience was much sexier. When you place a Porsche advertisement next to a power company, most marketers would pick the Porsche, never mind any campaign results. So, I had to make a choice: differentiate myself or watch my early career wither on the vine.

Five Steps To Differentiate Your Business.

1. Listen To Prospects. As an upstart freelancer, I couldn't afford a market research firm. So, I did the next best thing. I called every agency but never pitched them. Instead, I asked for input. I asked them what they hated about freelance writers.

2. Identify The Difference. They told me precisely what bothered them. Freelancers in this market, they said, were unreliable (here today, employed tomorrow); adjusted their rates based on the client (small shops paid less, big shops more); didn't always meet deadlines (the feast-famine nature of the business); were too specialized (agencies need generalists); and attempted to nickel and dime clients on revisions (two-hour jobs became ten-hour jobs).

3. Embrace The Difference. Got it. Don't do all that stuff. More importantly, make it a proactive message. I opened one of the first generalized writing services firms (permanence) with consistent pricing (transparency); guaranteed deadlines (authenticity); and built revisions into the estimates, charging less if the job took less time (meet expectations they didn't even know they had).

There were a dozens other reinforcements, but the point is made. These differentials set the stage for one thing — the first assignment. The rest has to be earned.

4. Deliver On The Promise. Messages are not enough. You have to deliver on the promise and exceed expectations on the core competency, in this case, writing services and creative. If you could win the first assignment and then deliver award-winning, results-driven copy and creative, there would be less reason to look anyplace else until the market changed.

5. Solidify And Evolve. Branding is a function of the actions you take, which underpins the relationship between the client and product or service. But like all relationships, personal or professional, they change over time. You always have to look for ways to keep the spark in the relationship alive with innovation. Our expansion focused on strategic communication and, later, social media.

Strategic Thinking Doesn't Consider Size.

The story might be tied to a small firm, but the principles apply to any size company. AT&T has more coverage area; Verizon is more reliable in key markets. Apple owns innovation; Microsoft, the industry standard. Google mostly owns search; Facebook took social. FedEx targeted corporate; UPS captured retail. Amazon owns a platform for buying; Ebay, a platform for selling.

Differentiation is everywhere. It even came up as a topic raised by Jay Ehret, host the online radio show Power To The Small Business, during taping last week. Ehret proposed that if your company is trying to be better, it often becomes the same.

And if it becomes the same, I might add, your product or service will likely die. Sometimes it will die quickly, the result of the competition crushing it with more visibility or a broken brand promise. Or, sometimes it will die slowly, with the only differential being price until the price becomes so unprofitable that someone goes bankrupt or is bought outright.

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Monday, July 5

Creating A Social World: Networking 2020

Ask 900 Internet experts about the future of social networks, and its not so surprising that most are bullish on the future. Eighty-five percent say the Internet has mostly been a positive force on their social world in developing personal friendships, marriage and other relationships.

Positive outcomes far outweigh the negative outcomes, according to the new Pew Research Center study: The Future of Online Socializing. The short-term outlook is especially bright, much brighter than the June study that asked the public what they expect to see by the year 2050.

Highlights Show Social Connectivity Makes The World A Better Place.

• The Internet provides a global reach to find people with similar interests.
• Social media has boosted communication, creation, and the cultivation of friendships.
• Many cited personal examples, including meeting their spouses online.
• The continuing press to invent human interfaces, including holographic displays.
• Rapidly expanding bandwidth and security inventions to handle information.
• Trusted storehouses of information that allow for better decision making.

Some of their glimpses into the future are already coming to fruition. Scientists are already to expand their reach through the use of social media. Some nonprofit organizations have increased their ability to raise funds for a fraction of the investment. And in a relatively short time, television will unlikely ever be the same.

Shadows Show Social Connectivity Has An Eventual Dark Side.

Of course, every invention has a darker side, including shallower relationships, time famine, privacy issues, and the self-induced silo effect. On the individual level, they noted a change in how reputations are made, perceived, and remade. On the organizational level, they mean adjusting to the pulse of visible public opinion.

For many experts, privacy tends to be the biggest concern despite their own exhilaration of being able to track public sentiment. Some, not part of the study, freely suggest that paranoia isn't paranoia when someone is attempting to track your every move. Even spookier, perhaps, is the idea that many people willfully give up privacy for the smallest of favors like the moniker of being a virtual mayor.

The Future For The Online Communicator.

We generally lean toward the most optimistic viewpoint, with social media eventually fueling productivity — places that are much more attuned to making mutual progress over mutual popularity. And therein lies the path most firms will be faced with crossing in as little as two years as opposed to ten years.

There are three primary paths currently being employed in social media. One leads toward integrated communication where mass communication is augmented by organic relationships built from mutual respect and validity of ideas.

The second path panders to mutual popularity, which can best be described as a furious back-scratching session of those who hope to propel themselves upward by creating an abundance of shallow relationships based on nothing more than the ownership of cowboy boots.

And the third, of course, is to create the illusion of popularity, buying up friends, followers, and retweets for pennies on the plug.

I don't know about you, but we're stuck on the first one. It takes a little longer to create a following, but the people are real.

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Sunday, July 4

Considering Density: Fresh Content Project

When you look up at the night sky hundreds of miles away from ambient city lights, you might be amazed to find that not all look the same. Some are large with welcoming red hues and others would be much smaller, burning with bright whites and blues. But much like most of the universe, looks can be misleading.

Gravity is dictated by density more than mass. Or, simply put, all those red giants that command our attention at a glance tend to have much less power than their hotly burning counterparts. Marketing and communication blogs operate much like that. Content density cannot be measured in popularity or reach. Smaller stars tend to have the more powerful posts. Here are five...

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of June 21

Four Common Blogger Outreach Mistakes.
Arik Hanson touches on several myths associated with blogger outreach. While one of them holds true for journalists too (make it relevant), the other three tips remind public relations professionals that bloggers are not journalists and many have no desire to be journalists. They approach their content like people as opposed to professionals. And like people, they appreciate a personal connection. To expand the idea further: if you consider yourself a public relations professional and bloggers as an opportunity, your outreach is already headed in the wrong direction.

Social Content.
After setting up an analogy using the World Cup, Valeria Maltoni shares a content grid that underscores how content format tends to interact on the Internet. She sums that you can catalog content by degrees of social, type of opportunity for the business, and depth of data you get back. The same can be said for content itself. Not many people want to read about a company ad nauseum (centralized), but they may be interested in the greater context of an industry or environment.

Ignore The Influencers: The Dangers Of A Social Media World
Ian Lurie tackles one of our favorite subjects: warning people away from hanging on every word spread by "influencers." He's right. Social networks, for all their merits in expanding reach, have dramatically changed the Web in ways we would have never imagined five years ago. When such networks were limited, we tended to consider every point in a post before sharing it in a post of our own. Today, some "influencers" have grown omnipresent in networks, with their work being shared by dozens of people who never read the post or, even if they did, assumed it was accurate because of who wrote it without any other consideration. Spooky, but true.

• How Hospitals Can Battle Comment Trolls — And Win
Writing within the medical communication niche has become a speciality for Jenn Riggle, but much of what she writes about can be applied anywhere. In fact, one of the solutions being imposed by some publications is to disallow anonymous comments, given how often they spiral out of control, with one person leaving as many as 20 comments under 20 different names. I have mixed feelings over the loss of anonymous comments, believing journalists could have curbed them by engaging their comment sections. And, in fact, Riggle outlines five steps that can turn a "troll" into a win for the organization.

Five iPad Trends To Watch.
Jeff Bullas sees the future much like we do. It's increasingly mobile and the iPad, despite some strong naysayers on the front end, has already reshaped what it used to be. The iPad, which combines laptop-like functions and mobile app addictions to the early e-readers, has already caused a drop in netbook sales, caught on as a gaming device, and allowed for some robust app creations that magazine publishers love because people are reading more than a single post on this new platform. The numbers alone suggest the truth. The iPad and future tablet competitors are something to track.

Friday, July 2

Developing Leadership: Performance Beats Persuasion

As consumer confidence cratered in June, the question that seems to be resurfacing over and over again is "where is the leadership?" The easiest answer?

We don't have enough leaders. According to one new study, only one-third of companies offer formal HR leadership development programs. And of those that do, there are no guarantees that what these companies are lacking are adequate leadership skills. Even at a company like Time Warner, the advice seems much more like employee manipulation than motivation.

Have We Forgotten Leadership Requires More Than The Art of Persuasion?

Persuasive figures play games with their followings. They push subjective ideas, obscure facts, and promote their own interests. They also make demands while denying anyone's attempt to hold them responsible or accountable.

If their ideas work, they leap for the spotlight. But when their ideas don't work, they immediately suggest the failings must belong to someone else. In the public sector, it comes across as claiming to be ready to move forward but assigning the responsibility of moving forward to those who aren't in a position of leadership. In the private sector, the same holds true.

Persuasive figures tend to be more obsessed with the "failings" of their employees or other departments than any other factor. If only the other guys, they say, would have done their job...

Effective leaders operate from a different vantage point, without ever making the story about them. Instead, they look for objectivity and truth, taking responsibility for their actions and winning the hearts of any following. As their plans succeed, more employees or people become motivated by the success of the group. And even if the plans don't succeed, they immediately begin to look for other solutions. They don't have time to find fault. They are too busy focused on the goal.

Consumer Confidence Is Shaken For Lack Of Leadership.

While the tone of the nation might be set by the public sector, many private sector companies have not been quick to lead either. Their excuse might be the regulatory uncertainty, but true leadership doesn't pin the success or failure of an organization on the economic climate.

It seems clear enough to me that any economic growth will be fueled by a handful of private sector companies focused on solutions regardless of the current climate. To do it, companies need to find or nurture leaders who are less focused on being persuasive and more focused on performance.

Related Posts On Leadership.

• Owning Communication: Be Your Own Voice
Creating Success: The Psychology Of Winners And Losers
Changing A Down Economy: It's Psychology

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Thursday, July 1

Spooking Business: Maybe Social Media Set The Wrong Bar

How often do entrepreneurs post about their business on a blog? The answer might surprise you.

SmartBrief polled its entrepreneurial readers only to find that almost 75 percent of respondents say they never blog for their business. Of those that do, only 12 percent pen a post once a week. Only 3 percent post daily.

On its own, the poll is not surprising. However, SmartBrief had run a poll in May to discover that of all social media formats, entrepreneurs are most interested in blogging, with 55 percent choosing a blog over other online platforms. Facebook finished second with 31 percent; Twitter with 12 percent; and Foursquare with 1 percent.

So why don't entrepreneurs embrace social media?

While prevailing thought suggests that small business owners aren't interested in social media, the SmartBrief polls suggest otherwise. So we asked some business people we know who haven't actively engaged in social media for their businesses. This is what they told us.

1. Time. Entrepreneurs, small business owners especially, barely have enough time to get everything else done. The thought of adding an hour or four to their everyday schedule is just too much to ask. Some say they might hire someone to maintain the blog for them, but they've read enough to know most social media experts says ghosting is out of the question.

2. Fear. Most entrepreneurs don't know what to write about. Part of the problem is time, because they realize they have to study up on industry trends beyond their business. But importantly, they've read enough marketing blogs to know that there are plenty of people waiting to pounce on them for writing about what they do know about: their product or service. Worst, any mistake made online is permanent, they say.

3. Skill. What appears easy for communicators is not so easy for all entrepreneurs. They aren't proficient writers. What some social media experts, public relations professionals, and copywriters can bang out in an hour, it takes them ten hours and there is still no guarantee it will be error free or anything anybody would read. That doesn't count hundreds of apps and platforms that many communicators have grown up with over the last ten years.

4. Networks. Some of them have attended enough workshops to know that a blog is not enough nowadays. The best read blogs have networks of hundreds or thousands that hang on their every word. It's hard to attract attention when you don't have 50 people who will promote your post, whether it's good or not. It's hard to justify, they say, reaching ten people.

5. Competitors. While social media experts frequently tell small businesses they should share their secrets to success, most small business owners believe doing so will only attract competitors (not customers) who will steal their ideas. They see it all the time on marketing blogs, they say. The people at the top cherry pick the people in the middle, without so much as attribution.

While I'll slate a post to address some of these concerns, there is one overriding theme that resonated with me. The same people promoting social media adoption in the field may also be the reason why more small businesses and entrepreneurs are hesitant to start. It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the rules of how to blog have gotten in the way of why to blog.

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